I'm learning to write faster. With blogging I’m already fairly quick, though my recent writing voice recalibration has slowed me down a bit (more on this in a future installment).
But in terms of screenwriting, I’m learning to be faster and looser, to let go a little more, and to refrain from perfecting until the polish draft.
And being a fast writer is a boon in the screenwriting industry, it seems. I have a few sought-after writer friends who are known, in part, for their speed.
So it’s a good thing, right? To be fast?
When we write quickly, there's another kind of fast that's implied as well.
It’s the idea that we should be cranking out multiple scripts each year (or books, for my novelist friends). That if we’re not, we’re slackers. (I read recently that screenwriting agents don’t even want to talk to you if you aren’t writing at least three new spec scripts a year, in addition to any paid writing assignments you might be working on. I also have novelist friends putting out multiple books per year.)
It starts to feel as though the counting police are breathing down your neck to see if you’ve done enough. Today, this week, this year. Enough words, stories, scripts, books, etc.
More power to the writers who want to and can write that much, but what about the rest of us with little kids and/or who are old enough to know that pulling all nighters, racing to meet deadlines, killing ourselves with 50, 60, or 70 hour workweeks is ridiculous, short-sighted, and terrible for our health and relationships? Or even just want to make sure we're actually enjoying LIVING along with writing?
Sure. We might want to write a lot. To be prolific. But we have to be mindful about what works for our LIVES as well as our careers. And our lives are individual, with specific realities, so there’s no point in comparing ourselves to others. After all, when comparing, someone always loses. That’s not a fun place to live from. (I honestly doubt that was the plan, when our souls said “YES!” to writing.)
Thoughts about quantity versus quality
I’m of two minds about this quantity thing, of course.
(That’s how you know it’s me!)
On the one hand, writing more stories means more practice, which means more experience and more knowledge under one’s belt as a writer, which also means greater facility with writing as a whole. That seems like a good thing to me. I learn more and deepen my skills with every project I tackle, to be sure. And as my natural pace picks up with greater experience (and my kids get older), I'm sure it will become even easier to write more, more quickly.
It also seems to be the standard recommendation these days — to write as much as possible — and indeed, my personal goal has been to build a library of scripts I can take to market all at once. I’m just choosing not to kill myself over it, especially with little kids whose childhoods I don't want to miss.
On the other side of the coin, taking your time to write one truly solid story may be the ticket to unlocking your storytelling gifts. It’s what I like about what Corey Mandell recommends: getting one script “pitch perfect authentic” so you deeply understand what you’re doing and why so you can carry that forward into your future projects. The argument goes that there’s no point in moving on to project after project if you’re just going to keep making the same mistakes. This is why I chose to spend the last couple of years refining my first script rather than moving on to new projects (though I have now just completed a rough draft of a new project and have taken on a writing assignment).
The real questions to ask
No matter what other people recommend, say, do, or think about how much we “should” be writing, we have to be true to ourselves and set the goals we actually want to achieve, not the goals we are told we "should" strive for.
The real way to measure our pace is by setting goals that work for us, are attainable, and are in resonance with the lives we want to have. Then we can see how well our pace and goals are matching up.
So the real questions to ask are: Are you writing fast enough for YOU? Are you meeting the goals you are setting for yourself, from your heart? Are you writing at a pace that feels sustainable and healthy? One that’s good for you, the project, and the planet?
The real answers lie there.